Planes: Fire &
Rescue bears the same relationship to the Pixar films it tries to imitate
that carob does to chocolate: it’s a bland, unsatisfying substitute, devoid of
the qualities that make the real thing memorable.
After winning numerous air races, Dusty Crophopper (voice by
Dane Cook) returns to the little Midwestern town of Propwash Junction: He’s no
longer just a crop duster, he’s a hero. But his high-speed antics have damaged
his gear box, and the mechanics can’t find a replacement. If he pushes himself
too hard, he’ll crash. When he pushes his torque past the lmiit, he has an
accident that sets the Propwash airport on fire. Aged fire truck Mayday (Hal
Holbrook) is humiliated when everyone realizes he’s too old to deal with an emergency.
Unless they can find someone to back him up on the safety squad, the airport will
remain closed and the annual Corn Festival will flop.
Dusty volunteers to go for training as a SEAT (Single Engine
Air Tanker) at Piston Peak, a remote mountain resort/fire station where he runs
into a new set of characters, as unendearing as the planes from the different
countries in the first film were. (What happened to Rochelle, the French plane
he flirted with?) Dusty’s pursued by man-hungry Lil’ Dipper (Julie Bowen); hears
outré platitudes from Windlifter (Wes Studi), a helicopter whose blades look
like eagle feathers; and gets no-nonsense, tough love training from Blade Ranger (Ed Harris), a stern
disciplinarian with a troubled past. Once again, the filmmakers deploy a fleet
of little forklifts in an attempt to reproduce the comedy the Minions bring to
the Despicable Me films.
Most of the story by Bobs Gannaway and Jeffrey M. Howard feels
like a reprise of the first film, in which Dusty came from behind to win the
race and save the day. Overcoming his initial troubles, Dusty comes from behind
ot complete his training, save a bunch of cars and trucks from a devastating
fire, and earn grudging praise from Blade. He risks his life to rescue two nice
old RV’s retracing their honeymoon, crashes, awakens form his repairs with a
new gear box, and returns home to his friends, ready for another unnecessary
All the characters jabber endlessly, with leaden puns,
predictable emotions and Morris-the-Explainer speeches. As Dipper, Bowen tries
to recreate some of the inspired zaniness of Ellen DeGeneres’ Dory in Finding Nemo, but succeeds only in being
annoying. Blade Ranger is Skipper from the first Planes and Doc Hudson from Cars,
but the figure of the heroic mentor haunted by an incident in his past grows less
interesting with each incarnation. Windlifter’s pseudo-Native American mumbo-jumbo
comes across as distatefully stereotypical.
The protracted loop-the-loop flying sequences are sometimes
vertiginous, but never exciting, and the thrilling aerial scenes in How to Train Your Dragon 2 simply
eclipse them. Director Bobs Gannaway juggles three separate perils in the fiery
climax, but never conveys a sense of urgency or menace. Earlier scenes of the
cast fighting smaller fires merely impede the plot’s faltering progress.
Fire and Rescue isn’t
the kind of terrible film that makes viewers snap at each other over coffee
afterward: It doesn’t make a strong enough impression. The film runs 83
minutes, and 73 minutes later, audience members will have trouble remembering
much about it.
Although it’s not a Pixar film, Planes: Fire & Rescue is designed to look like one. It’s sad to
see Disney taking the short term profits the toy planes will earn over preserving
the enviable reputation for creating top-quality animation Pixar has always